This past December I visited Los Angeles for the first time, and the trip proved all the hype about relocating to LA to make it as a filmmaker rings true… in some regard. Making it work outside of LA though, that’s also not so-far-fetched either in 2019.
We all tend to identify LA as the city of stars. There’s Rodeo Drive. The major studios and agencies. The Staples Center with Jack and Snoop. Hollywood Boulevard. Even the Hollywood Sign for crying out loud!
And if you’ve never been to LA, yes, it is all that and more.
Be weary, however, of the superficial glare that is sure to smear the eye of most of today’s millennial pool of hopeful business owners and influencers. The itch for a following will surely drag you down, which is why focusing on an area of emphasis is an important first step.
ARE YOU A WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER, ACTOR, OR ALL OF THE ABOVE?
Most people nowadays want to make videos for a viewing audience that will gain a following or just to have something to post on the Internet. Regardless, there are stages to every piece of content.
And it all starts with a writer.
During the 2013 Oscars, a beautiful young lady — whose name is escaping me right now — stood at the microphone to present the award for Best Screenplay. In her opening speech she said, “Writers, we know you are the backbone of this industry, and without you, the movies we see would never be made.”
That quote stuck with me and inspired me to become a screenwriter, but it didn’t just happen over night.
It took me countless hours researching screenwriters of the past and present. Studying different types of screenplays. From teleplays to feature films, formatting to how to write a treatment, character development to natural dialogue and character voice — and that’s just to name a few topics of research over the past six years. So if you’r’e looking to be an overnight Aaron Sorkin, it’s possible… but good luck, partner. You’re gonna need it.
Being a good writer either comes natural or takes routine. If it comes natural, figuring out the next project is never an issue because your mind doesn’t stop finding new ideas from every day life. If you’re on the other end of the spectrum where writing requires you being strapped to a keyboard, but you’re a natural born leader keen on video production, then directing or producing may be your calling.
Hollywood has a special place carved in studios for producers and directors alike. Both titles will give you direct access to studio executives, and a lot of money if you know how to curate a good film.
Where the two areas of expertise differ is that the producer usually runs the show and organizes everything or everyone during pre and post production while the director reigns over the production set and final cut of the film. The only thing more sought out by Hollywood execs than a good director is a good, young writer and director. Being a dual-gun holder at their disposal only increases your worth when you get compared to the other big shots down the line.
Simply put, if you plan to write your own movies and increase your chances of seeing them play out on the big screen exactly how you put it to paper, then channel your inner Billy Walsh and go for it! Agents and execs for the big studios and networks will savor any and every opportunity to lock down a writer/director with a promising future.
Producers are also extremely vital to every production process. They can range from an executive producer (the guy with deep pockets) to associate producers who literally just stand in and oversee what’s going on when the studio head can’t make it. The latter is what most aspiring producers envision to be. You know, the fast-talking, well-connected magic makers who seek cast and crew, set schedules, and ultimately culminate the project from script to film.
If neither a writer, director, or producer are up your alley but you want to make it in the film industry, give acting a try.
Acting is probably the most relative skill any Joe Shmo off the street can pick up or do. The craft depends on a fearless approach when it comes to being on camera and pretending, which is personified by social media influencers all over the world on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to the paid camera time, it’s no secret acting also can provide fame. If you don’t mind paparazzi and the occasional stalker, then going into acting for the fame is all for you. Just be warned — If you’re in it for the fame, you should probably reconsider your career path.
Working in the film industry can consist of a wide variety of jobs including all of the roles mentioned so far, and also for anyone with just general interest in creating. There are a multitude of jobs for animation artists, graphic designers, editors, builders, carpenters, landscapers, pretty much any workmanship you can think of can be used in a movie production. So if you haven’t already, reflect on your strengths and weaknesses and focus on whatever burning passion inspired you to make movies.
THE POWER OF THE INTERNET
Back in the old days, like in the 90s, aspiring filmmakers of the time did not have the same resources we have in modern times. And this is because of one thing and one thing only — the Internet.
The Internet has evolved from the size of a box car to a handheld device we can’t sustain life without. With all the different apps to network and socialize with friends, family, and strangers near, far, and in between — the Internet is the single most useful tool for any aspiring filmmaker based outside of LA.
With just a quick Google search, you can find the contact information of literary managers, producers seeking scripts, agents in need of clients, and what you can submit to catch the eye of representation. And it doesn’t stop there. If you scour Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for industry connects, you’re sure to also find whomever you’re looking for if you look hard enough.
Of course, not all representation will be easy to get ahold of without a foot already in the door or via a silver lining like IMDBpro.
IMDB is known for its database of film reviews, casts and crews, and other movie-related quick facts about almost every movie ever made. In addition to all of that though, the site also offers a “pro” account that comes at a discounted rate if you are an Amazon Prime customer. The pro account gives you direct access to the contact information of agents, agencies, producers, production companies, actors, actresses, writers for both TV and film, and even social media influencers as well.
So if you’re unsure of where to invest your time and money when it comes to gathering information about industry people that would actually be worth while, IMDBpro and social media are my go-to contact havens I would highly recommend checking out.
Film festival and screenplay competition sites are also great online resources available to the non-LA-er.
There are different ways to enter the festivals, but the most seamless entry method is through Without A Box or Film Freeway. These two platforms serve as a database for upcoming festivals that accept original and spec material from individuals looking to showcase their work beyond the local realm, and whom also may be looking to break into the industry from the outside in.
If you’re just getting your feet wet and have a minimal budget, I recommend entering local or lower tier festivals as a start. Once you’ve got a project that is the second-coming of Reservoir Dogs or The Sixth Sense, aim for bigger festivals that offer international exposure or are Oscar-qualifiers to increase your chances of rubbing shoulders with representation that would be interested in investing in what you have to offer.
Not to mention, the entry fees for film festivals are dependent on how early you submit your project, which can help you with setting deadlines. But don’t jump at the bit for every festival you see out there. Some festivals are scams designed to steal your money or identity, which is why it’s important to do your research through Without A Box or Film Freeway to get an idea of what the festival is all about.
But if you’re still hesitant on showcasing your work in a festival after all research is complete — well, what are you waiting for? Get your feet wet on the film festival circuit and make it happen!
Regardless of your motivation for film, the idea of living in LA to make a career out of being a filmmaker is turning into an after-thought with each passing day. There are ample opportunities to be innovative in your marketing approach due to the accessibility granted to all of us in today’s digital age. This in turn makes breaking into Hollywood as an outsider much more likely than ever before.
So while my trip to LA this past Winter was everything I thought it would be and more, the visit ultimately encouraged me to defeat the odds and to continue my upstart based outside of LA. Of course, it is too far fetched to assume one can break into Hollywood without getting to know someone with direct access to the higher-ups who run the town, but the days of soliciting your query letters and standing outside of Warner Bros in hopes of finding representation are nearing an inevitable end.
The film industry is ever-changing just like any other industry, and if you’re truly dedicated to your craft, your time will come no matter where you are or how you market yourself.